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Signs of Cancer in Children

Pediatrics and Child Health

Cancer in children, as with adults, begins in the cells. For whatever reason, certain cells in the body grow out of control, destroy neighbor cells, and eventually spread. Childhood cancers can occur suddenly, sometimes without obvious early symptoms. Although these cancers have a high rate of cure, cancer is a serious illness, so it’s important to be aware of the signs of cancer in children. Here is some general information regarding cancer in children. If you suspect something, it’s really important to inform your pediatrician as soon as possible, as cancer symptoms can be as varied as the disease itself.

What Is Cancer?

Cells in the body are tightly regulated when it comes to growth, life span, and interaction with other cells. When something goes wrong and either new cells form when you don’t need them or old cells don’t die when they should, a tumor forms. If the tumor is malignant, those cells can invade nearby tissues or break away and spread to other parts of the body. As cancer cells grow and spread, they demand more and more of the body’s nutrition. Thus, in addition to destroying organs, bones, and other healthy tissue, cancer weakens children, lowering their immune system and sapping their strength.

Types of Childhood Cancer

The most common type of childhood cancer is leukemia. Two other fairly common cancers in children are lymphoma (Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin) and brain cancer. Teenagers are at higher risk for osteosarcoma, a bone cancer. Other types of cancers commonly faced by children include: neuroblastoma (a solid tumor occurring outside the brain), Ewing’s sarcoma (another form of bone cancer), retinoblastoma (an eye tumor) and Wilm’s tumor (a tumor in the kidney that mostly affects young children).

General Signs of Cancer in Children

It’s important to realize that signs of cancer in children can really vary, depending on the type of cancer and how advanced it is. Although an enlarging mass in the child’s neck, abdomen, arms, or legs, can be a pretty good tip-off, early symptoms can be tough to detect and may be associated with other infections, illnesses, or conditions. Some of these elusive symptoms may include fever, swollen glands, frequent infections, anemia, and bruising. Other symptoms might also be bone pain, night sweats, vomiting, loss of appetite, and headaches. So how do you know if these are cancer symptoms or some other condition? As a parent, you need to think about the degree of the symptoms, how bad they are, how long your child has experienced them, and if they’re getting worse over time. When in doubt, ask your pediatrician about it and see if he or she can run some sample tests.

Once cancer’s been diagnosed, talk to your pediatrician about the nearest medical treatment center that specializes in pediatric oncology, or cancer treatment. A variety of treatments are used, including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, but you want to be working with a team of medical professionals who really know children, understand their unique needs, and will be able to determine the best course of action for your child’s care.

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